Tejada still not cutting loose despite extra time in cage

May 24, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

There weren't many heads in Camden Yards at 4 p.m. yesterday, when Miguel Tejada trudged out of the home dugout and into the batting cage. But all the heads swung in his direction. Whatever Tejada does for the Orioles and with the Orioles gets a longer look than what anyone else does, from the distance of his drives to his hustle down to first to the extra batting practice he takes.

It's actually kind of refreshing to hear so much less about Tejada running out ground balls these days. Problem is, there's a reason that particular complaint about the Orioles' highest-paid player and should-be franchise cornerstone is on the back burner: His bat has lost its pop.

Actually, it hasn't had any pop all season.

Thus the extra cage time the past two days, and thus the appearance of a pitching machine for a while yesterday, not a typical sight during BP, to feed him breaking balls.

And, thus the up-close view taken by Sam Perlozzo, leaning on the back of the cage, right behind Tejada, on top of every pitch just as much as his shortstop was.

Perlozzo's life would be a lot less stressful right now if any players, much less his most valuable ones, had come through at the right time more often. So it's in his best interest that Tejada gets unstuck, as soon as possible.

Tejada didn't really last night against Toronto, but the Orioles' other bats woke up (as did Corey Patterson's feet), and the 5-2 victory made for one day that the manager didn't have to rationalize some disastrous development.

Tejada's second day of extra BP also was a day the batting order was shuffled, again. Up went Melvin Mora and Nick Markakis again, down went Ramon Hernandez and, back to the cleanup spot, Tejada. Shuffle the order enough, you'd have to figure, and some clutch hits have to fall out somewhere.

Perlozzo can't afford to be picky about who starts hitting. As he implied before the game, there might not be as much talk about the bullpen implosions if it had larger leads to work with.

"When we came out of spring training, I thought the lineup we had - it was the lineup we wanted," he said. "Now we're just trying to get somebody going a little bit, swinging the bat and scoring some more runs."

Ideally, though, that somebody is Tejada. That's why he's here, that's who can carry the offense and whose hitting can be contagious, that's what he always has done.

Until this season. He came into yesterday with one RBI in his previous 10 games and with eight extra-base hits - two homers, six doubles - all year. The guy who generally lands among the leaders in slugging percentage early on and never leaves isn't even on the AL radar, at .373 going into the game.

No one seems to know what's wrong. All are in agreement, however, that it's not the 1,126 straight games, no matter how often, even tentatively, that comes up.

Perlozzo said that whether it's about sitting or DH-ing, when he hears Tejada tell him about it is when he'll consider either option.

And even before his early work in the cage the past two days, it would have been insulting to imply that he wasn't trying. Tejada, as slumping batters usually are, is stuck between trying to get out of it and trying not to press too much to get out of it.

The power drought, he told reporters before the game, is "part of baseball. I've hit a lot of home runs in my career and I've hit a lot of doubles. There's 100-something games left. I can't worry about how I'm not hitting as many homers. I could come back and hit three or four homers in one week."

As for the notion of trying too hard to hit for extra bases, he added, "That'll make it worse because it's not me. My swing isn't a home-run swing. My swing is a line-drive hitter. I'm not trying to hit home runs. I'm in a tough time right now, but everything will be fine."

Perlozzo agrees. Of course, he has been saying Danys Baez will be fine, too. He might be right about both, but the odds, and history, say he'll be more right about Tejada.

It figured, though, that Tejada's first three at-bats last night led off innings, eliminating RBIs from the equation (barring a homer) while spotlighting a meek night at the plate for Markakis (0-for-4, all groundouts). He singled up the middle the third time up - on a fastball, after fanning on three pitches, the last one a curve low and away, in the previous at-bat.

His fourth time up came with two on, two out, the Orioles up by a run and first base open; he got the no-brainer intentional walk, and then saw Aubrey Huff deliver two runs worth of cushion.

No one's going to throw that back. Yet the Tejada power outage continued. No one promised that the early sessions would take hold immediately.

But for everybody's sake - his own, his beleaguered manager's and the teammates wandering around the base paths every night - they'd better take hold soon.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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